PARIS: France paid tribute on Friday to the 130 mostly young people killed while they were enjoying themselves in Paris two weeks ago by Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers in the most deadly attacks the nation has seen since World War Two.
Blue-white-and-red French flags hung from the windows of public buildings and private homes as hundreds of survivors and relatives of the dead joined political leaders for a remembrance ceremony at the military museum Les Invalides in the capital.
The militant group Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attacks, which targeted cafes, restaurants, a sports stadium and a rock concert. More than 350 people were wounded and nearly 100 of them remain in hospital.
Under a wintry sky, the names and ages of the 130 victims were read out. A majority were under 35 and they came from all over France and from 17 other countries.
In a poignant but defiant speech, President Francois Hollande vowed to destroy Islamic State and urged his compatriots to help combat the group simply by continuing to go to bars, restaurants and cultural and sporting events and to enjoy the simple pleasures he said the militants hated.
“I solemnly promise you all that France will do everything to defeat the army of fanatics who have committed these crimes, that she will act tirelessly to protect her children,” he said.
“The terrorists want to divide us, to oppose us, to pit us against one another. They will fail. They have the cult of death, we have the love of life,” he said.
Hollande said the Nov. 13 attacks were part of a chain stretching back to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, and he noted that many other countries – including, this month alone, Mali and Tunisia – had been hit by militant groups.
Most of the assailants in the Paris attacks killed themselves using suicide vests or were killed by police but French and Belgian authorities are still hunting others suspected of involvement or possibly plotting new attacks.
Last week the French parliament backed a three-month extension of a state of emergency declared immediately after the attacks to allow security forces greater scope in combating militant Islamist groups.
France has also stepped up its aerial bombing campaign of Islamic State targets in Syria. This week, Hollande held separate talks with the leaders of the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany and Italy on how to crush the militants.
“We will defeat this enemy. Together. With our forces, those of the republic. With our arms, those of democracy. With our institutions, with international law,” a somber Hollande said.
The Nov. 13 attacks came 11 months after Islamist militants killed 17 people in Paris, most of them at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and at a kosher supermarket.